STEPHAN JAMES

Full Look by Z Zegna

With a Golden Globe nomination for Homecoming under his belt and rounds of praise for his work in If Beale Street Could Talk, actor Stephan James is a storytelling force to be reckoned with.

Photographer: Karl Simone | Fashion Editor & Stylist: Marc Sifuentes | Interviewer: Stacy-Ann Ellis | Creative Director: Louis Liu | Groomer: Tara Lauren for Epiphany Artist Group using Kiehl’s | Features Editor & Producer: Ben Price | Photo Assistant: Ned Witrogen

Full Look by Z Zegna

Stephan James is well aware of the power of his eyes. For the better part of If Beale Street Could Talk’s two-hour run time, his gaze as Alfonso “Fonny” Hunt from James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, is plastered across the full length of the cinema screen. As his deep, pleading eyes focus maddeningly on his fiancée, Tish Rivers (played by KiKi Layne), or well up from behind prison walls, they wring out raw emotions from the audience scene by scene.

We’ve seen these penetrating eyes before in films like Selma and Race, and in the FOX TV series, Shots Fired. “Some actors, they use their eyes to carry a lot of emotion, I think that’s part of what I do,” James says over an early morning phone call, humbly attributing his affecting stare to the skills he’s honed as an actor. “It’s the subtleties sometimes.”

James’ grasp on director Barry Jenkins’ vision and intention for the Baldwin adaptation is clear, as is the importance of his role in delivering it. The first time the Toronto, Canada native read the novel, or any Baldwin literature for that matter, was after he’d read and fallen in love with Jenkins’ screenplay. However, the gravity of Baldwin’s words (and the necessity to be a proper vessel for them) were not lost on him.

“I was really blown away by the language of Baldwin,” he says, even describing his verbiage as Shakespearean. “Just how descriptive and vivid he was, the way he described love, the way he described tragedy in the same breath. The poetry in which he went about doing it. And then again those themes, the fact that this man wrote this book in 1974 and it just felt so relevant.”

Jenkins’ Beale Street follows the newly engaged black Harlem couple as they navigate major life hurdles occurring at the same time. (Shortly after Fonny is falsely ID’d and imprisoned for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman, Tish finds out she is pregnant with his son.) As the story weaves in and out of the befores, durings and afters of Fonny’s grim predicament, Jenkins explores topics such as community, vulnerability, restraint and sacrifice. However, one particular theme is paramount: bonafide black love. “This film is showing what the power of black love is able to help us get through,” he says.

IRIS Covet Book caught up with Stephan James to dig into his future as a leading man, the threads that bind him with his character, Fonny, and the way If Beale Street Could Talk challenged society’s narrow expectations of black men.

Full Look by Z Zegna

Full Look by The Saltings NYC, Shoes by Bally

Once If Beale Street Could Talk wrapped, what was your experience watching the finished film for the first time?

The first thing that struck me about the film was it felt very much like a Barry Jenkins film. It felt like a movie about faces more so than places, and I think that it’s pretty striking when you have these characters talking directly to camera, cutting out the middleman. And Barry Jenkins, by the way, would never tell us when he’s doing those shots. He would never plan them. He would feel it out as a scene was going along and say, “Okay, well now I’m going to put it directly in your face, so let’s go.” It’s a great tool to cut out the space between the audience and the characters and just have a direct line of conversation.

When pursuing the role, what part of yourself did you see in Fonny reading from the page?

First and foremost, Fonny is an artist. He’s an artist much like I’m an artist. Outside of acting I also like to paint, and Fonny is a sculptor. He’s deeply, deeply sentimental and artistic and he loves a lot, so I found some similarities with just his artistry. And then maybe a couple of months before hearing about this film, I had become infatuated with the Kalief Browder story. It was striking because as soon as I read this screenplay, I thought of Kalief immediately. I thought that their stories were so similar, almost unfortunately similar. The fact that Baldwin wrote these words in 1974 and they had so much resonance in 2017 when I was reading this script and when I was reading this novel. It was just something inside of me that told me, wow, Fonny is Kalief’s story. Fonny is an opportunity to give a voice to young men like Kalief and so many other young men across the country who are going through the same sort of ordeal. So I feel like I kind of made the connection really quickly. And ultimately it just felt important. It felt important to embody somebody like Fonny. Although he is a fictional character, and all these characters are fictional characters, they’re representative of very real people.

It was refreshing to see a black man being just an artist—not sketchy, not a hustler—on screen. What does that communicate about the scope of the black man?

This film challenges a lot of ideologies in terms of what it means to be a black man, what black love means and the idea of what black families mean. Seeing Fonny as this deeply sentimental artist—he’s a sculptor, he takes something that is seemingly nothing and it’s a labor of love for him—I think that it’s important for the psyche of black men, young black men, watching this film. Often, especially in state of mind and art in general, I feel like there’s a very limited perspective when it comes to the portrayal of black men and what black masculinity looks like. Especially when it comes to these men who have been criminalized. We never get to see them as artists, sculptors, lovers, fathers, husbands. I think that this film is revolutionary in that way.

You look at some of the scenes—particularly the scene between Daniel and Fonny. To have these two young black men who have been criminalized be able to sit down at the table and open up to one another, be completely vulnerable with each other and share their deepest darkest secrets with each other, their fears, the things that keep them up [at night]. What a special thing that is, just for the psychology of these young men watching this film. The fact that they get to see that we can be like this, we can lean on our brothers like this… If it’s only one person, then we can use our brothers in this way and love in this way. I just think it’s a powerful, powerful message that’s being said.

Did you find yourself at any point angry just thinking about the helplessness conveyed in Fonny’s story?

Yeah… I mean the thing is this. Baldwin says, “to be a black person in America is to be in a constant state of rage,” but on a bigger scale, I think that the biggest theme in this book and in this movie in general is love. And in particular, it’s black love. It’s this idea that for hundreds of years the black community in general has been born into a world where the chips are stacked against them. Where we have an unjust system, a system that’s supposed to be a place to protect us but is seemingly failing to protect a group of people time and time and time again. I think that this film is showing what the power of black love is able to help us get through.

I think that despite these tumultuous circumstances thet Tish and Fonny find themselves in, the darkest times, it’s this love. It’s this unbroken, undying love in the face of adversity that has kept them going. That’s the only reason why at the end of the film, despite the circumstances, Fonny is still in prison, but it’s this love that’s helping to raise their child, this five-year-old boy now. That’s the only thing that’s kept them going. That’s the bigger message. So of course you get angry, and it’d be impossible not to get angry. It’s sort of the world that we live in, but I think Baldwin’s making a statement on the power of black love.

Full Look by Roberto Cavalli

Jacket and Shirt by Helmut Lang, Pants by Burberry

The nuance of that love really presents itself at the grocery store. After Fonny defended Tish from a creep in the store, Tish had to protect Fonny from a racist police officer who threatened to arrest him and called him “boy” in the same breath. Tish didn’t think twice when she spoke up to Officer Bell and said, “He is not a boy.” There’s so much energy packed into the scene where Fonny defends Tish, then she turns around and defends his manhood from a racist police officer. There’s tension between you and the officer, the restraint you have to exercise, and Tish’s fearlessness overcoming her physical fear.

I definitely saw that. I saw the restraint that many young men have to learn at a very young age and black men have to learn at a very young age, in terms of how to deal with police. It’s something we’re sort of instructed to [do] as young men. There’s definitely a lot of energy between Tish and Officer Bell, the idea that a black woman can be strong and stand behind her partner in this way. I saw a level of frustration, too, maybe between Tish and Fonny. Almost like, I don’t need you to protect me, and I should be the one protecting you. It’s ironic that I was protecting you and now you have to protect me. It’s interesting how the shift in the scene happens so quickly.

It seems to also speak to the power of the black woman in general. In the film, we see Tish, her mother, Sharon, and her sister, Ernestine—even Fonny’s mother, Mrs. Hunt, has a powerful (albeit negative) presence. Do you feel like there’s something to intentionally be said about women with this film?

In general, our ideologies have been challenged in this film. What it means to be a strong black woman. The fact that it wasn’t Frank who went to Puerto Rico to find Fonny’s accuser, it was Sharon. She hopped up on the plane and she went to find the accuser to see if she could plead for Fonny’s innocence and for his freedom. I think there’s something to be said for the family dynamic and how there’s a balance of power. Especially if you look at Tish’s family, how sometimes it’s Frank that’s out working and trying to make sure that everything’s good before the baby comes out. Sharon’s version of working is, I’m gonna hop on a plane and go to Puerto Rico. It’s just the balance of sharing those duties of the responsibilities. It’s Tish showing the strength of a black woman. She’s working all the way up until the last minute that this baby’s supposed to come into the world. There’s a lot of commentary in terms of what it means to be a strong black woman. This whole novel, this whole story, is told from the perspective of a strong black woman. It’s told from Tish’s eyes, and I think that Tish really grows into herself in this film. You see her grow up pretty quickly and step into that womanly, motherly type of role.

Jacket by Alexander McQueen, Shirt by Roberto Cavalli

Jacket by Alexander McQueen, Shirt by Roberto Cavalli

Jacket by Alexander McQueen, Shirt by Roberto Cavalli

Do you think that you would be able to maintain that sense of togetherness—in terms of love, sanity, optimism—if you were in Fonny’s legal situation? Especially if there was not a guarantee of freedom in sight.

I really couldn’t say, man, I really couldn’t say. I’ve never been to prison. I have no clue what that’s like. Those walls are meant to break people—physically, mentally, spiritually, all the above. So I can’t say. I really, really, can’t say. I’m thankful I’ve seen examples now in cinema of Fonny who was able to sustain himself through all this, but I’ve also seen examples of Kalief Browder who even after two years after his release from prison committed suicide. So there’s no telling what a thing like that puts you through.

That plays out with Fonny and Daniel’s conversation. Fonny tried to console him about his post-prison emotions and his acclimation to the world, and Daniel stressed that he just didn’t understand.

Absolutely, and like I said, these walls are meant to break these men, so after they come out, they’re still dealing with all of this trauma. This PTSD, if you will. So the conversation is not only about why they’re in there—obviously wrongfully, of course—but what to do to them and with them after they come out? How do we treat them? Especially when we know that we’ve wronged them. The system has wronged them. Is there a system in place now to help them get their lives back together and to regain humanity? What do we do with these young men who have been wrongfully imprisoned and are now having to deal with the trauma and the acclimation back into civilian life in general?

After both this performance and your role in Homecoming, the world is paying attention. How does it feel to see that growth and recognition?

We don’t make art from a place where we want a bunch of awards and stuff like that. I appreciate the recognition, that the people are seeing the work, and ultimately if that sort of recognition means that more people will see the work, you know, because it’s being regarded and respected as such, then that’s what I want. If [Golden Globe] nominations mean more people get to see Beale Street and more people get to see Homecoming, then I’m all for it.

Were there any key professional takeaways from working with Barry Jenkins for Beale Street and Julia Roberts for Homecoming?

There’s just so much. I’m so grateful for Barry Jenkins, who’s probably one of the great humanists that we have in this business. One of the incredible storytellers who’s always pushing the envelope, I believe, in cinema. I’m grateful to be able to tell stories with a man like that. Probably one of the most patient directors I’ve ever worked with who just allows moments to breathe and live. And then Homecoming, obviously I’m in a position where I’m sitting across from one of the biggest actresses in the history of acting. I’m able to pick up gems from her on a daily basis about etiquette, how you go about your work day, and how you do your homework. I wouldn’t say it’s one particular thing, but getting to spend months with these people with my favorite filmmakers and to be able to pick up the nuances in their work, it’s really an invaluable experience, altogether.

You’ve tackled stories of black love, injustice, tragedy, etc. Are there any stories or characters you’d like to explore next?

I don’t know, I wanna be in a comedy. I wanna be James Bond, I wanna do a Mission Impossible. I wanna be Batman. I don’t see any limits in terms of what I wanna do. I just see a whole world of… I mean I really feel like I’m scratching the surface, honestly. I want to do everything.

Jacket and Shirt by Bally

Jacket and Shirt by Bally

JOEY KING

Dress by Zhivago

Photography by Greg Swales | Styling by Lisa Jarvis | Creative Direction by Louis Liu | Hair by Dimitri Giannetos | Makeup by Jamie Greenberg | Interview by Benjamin Price

Equipped with a dazzling personality, expressive eyes, charming sense of humor, and a girl-next-door smile, it is no wonder that 19 year-old Joey King has found herself to be one of the most promising young actors in Hollywood today. In what stands to be her most emotionally challenging role to date, Joey King has transformed herself into the abused victim-turned-convicted-killer Gypsy Rose Blanchard for Hulu’s new series The Act. Gypsy Rose lived in an environment of abuse, manipulation, dependence, and exploitation at the hands of her mother Dee Dee Blanchard, played by the Academy Award winning actress Patricia Arquette, which Joey King portrays in a shockingly sincere and earnest performance in this disturbing, re-telling of true events.

Joey King’s career and devoted fan following surged after her performance in Netflix’s The Kissing Booth, which was one of the streaming service’s most watched and re-watched films – landing the cast a sequel to be released sometime in 2020. Now, in her new role for Hulu’s latest series The Act, King proves her acting can range from cute, romantic comedy ingenue to psychologically disturbing and multi-dimensional true-crime dramatic starlet.

Taking a break from filming her upcoming productions, Joey King takes the stage as Iris Covet Book’s spring cover. The teenage actress sat down with Iris Covet Book to discuss The Act, the importance of badass women and minorities in Hollywood, and why she would love to direct the next Girl,Interrupted.

 

Dress by Zhivago

Hi Joey!

Hi, how are you?

I’m doing well, thank you – Ok, so let’s jump into this! Can you tell us about your start as an actress at 4 years old? Did you think as a kid that you would be starring in major film and television projects today?

No, definitely not! But it’s interesting because when I started acting, my very first job was actually a LIFE cereal commercial. I thought this was what I was always going to do and had no doubt about that, but I never imagined I would be where I am today. It’s just been an insane journey and opportunity to be where I am, and to meet the people I have met along the way. I have been so incredibly lucky.

That’s a good point. Making the right connections is important in any career – especially as a young actress in the industry I imagine it can be hard to trust everyone.

Exactly! With all of the things that have happened in the past few years with the Times Up Movement and Me Too, I think it’s so exciting to see what new things are happening and how people can feel more safe in the industry. I’ve been in this business for a pretty long time and I feel like I have been pretty lucky to have avoided most of that. I mean of course I have experienced it every now and then, but I know what it looks like, I know how to stay clear, and I haven’t seen a really really dark side as much as other people have. And I feel very lucky for that.

And starting out young would definitely teach you what to avoid later on as you grow and mature by meeting more experienced actors who can show you the lay of the land. And speaking of the Times Up Movement and what’s going on in America at-large, but specifically in Hollywood, what changes have you seen personally in the industry?

I see a lot of inclusiveness and I think it’s beautiful. I just think it’s fucking awesome that more African American people and more Asian people get to tell their stories on-screen more often now, and that’s a new thing to see. I’m really happy that I get to see more of that. It’s great that I am not just being cast to be the daughter anymore, or the little best friend role, and seeing the change in available roles for young women like me is really exciting. I love it so much and I hope we get to continue on this path because things are really starting to change for the better!

It seems to be a really exciting time to be an actor or actress right now. It brings to mind Reese Witherspoon’s production company that works with female-led and female-centric stories, and I wonder if you have any interest in going into writing or producing something like that?

I do! I’m always amazed by writers and directors and how you can come up with a story in your mind and translate it onto paper. I’d love to learn more about the writing process and to direct one day. I feel like now that I am a bit older I have such an interest with what goes on behind the scenes, like I love to hear the Director of Photography talk about the shots, the order of the scenes, and all of those things. I am actually paying attention, and it’s so cool to see how much work and thought goes into making a film or TV show. It’s the coolest thing in the world! I am amazed every day with what they do.

It’s such an exciting time to be listening and aware of all of the different stories out there, especially with social media. You have nearly 9 million Instagram followers and have the ability to tell your story to all those people around the world. How do you feel as an actress and role model to have access to all of your fans directly?

It’s so cool! I get to hear from people every day who look up to me, and I am lucky to have them. My fans are so so sweet, and I am excited that I get to have such direct contact with them. I mean, they are the reason that I am where I am, you know? The Kissing Booth couldn’t have the success that it had without them and some fans watched it over and over again and because of that it became Netflix’s #1 movie in 2018!

 

Dress by Murmur

Dress by Stella McCartney, Jacket by Roberto Cavalli

Paris Hilton said in The American Meme documentary that she loves her fans because she can feel so alone on the road, and doing press, and she feels like her fans are like her family.

Absolutely! I totally agree with that, and I love that she said that. It’s true, like now I am filming in Georgia and working every day, but when I have free time it’s nice to hear from my fans and feel their support through social media.

Yeah absolutely! To pivot the conversation a bit, I really want to hear more about your upcoming role as Gypsy Rose Blanchard on Hulu’s The Act.

Yes! I’ve actually really never been able to transform myself like this before and this is the first time where I can become a different person – a real person! She is alive and in prison as we speak, and the experience has just been incredible! Playing Gypsy was weird…I want to do right by her and I want people to understand her situation, and why she did what she did. Not that what she did was right, but I also don’t think that she deserved to be completely blasted for her thought process. And working with Patricia Arquette is just genuinely the greatest experience of my life.

Were you able to meet Gypsy to prepare for the role or during the process? Does she know about it?

I know that she knows about that show, but I wasn’t able to contact her. I would have loved to get to know more about her as a person, but all I can do is research her story and try to do the best I can and do right by her.

When the story of Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee came out three years ago were you aware of it? Did you watch the HBO documentary?

When I got the call to come in and read for Gypsy I had heard of the story, but I didn’t know a lot and hadn’t seen the documentary. I watched it before the audition and was like, “Are you freaking kidding me??” I went into the audition and was so nervous, but I am so happy that I got to portray her story.

Was there a lot of added pressure playing somebody real? Many actors and actresses have said it can be a bigger challenge.

It is a challenge, and I want people to understand and think about this, and I have conflicting emotions myself over Gypsy. She was raised by a master manipulator and so she kind of became one herself. I understand why a lot of people have a hard time sympathizing with her but I also think this show will hopefully open people’s eyes and show how messed up the conditions really were. It’s a lot of pressure playing a real person, one who is literally just sitting in prison right now, but at the same time I feel really good about it. I hope that I am doing right by her and if she sees it one day she will be like, “Thank God they portrayed me that way!” The series is partially fictional, it is a TV show, but a lot of the shit we are putting in there is true as hell!  

This is one of those stories, like you were saying earlier, that needs to be told. And it’s a story that people can see multiple sides of this very famous, national news story retold in a different way.

Absolutely and there are parts of the show where you will start to feel bad for DeeDee or maybe not like Gypsy very much. The show goes over several years of their life, and you can’t help but go through a lot of emotions while watching it.

It’s real life and there are multiple dimensions and you won’t always like it. I think that’s what is so amazing for actors today because it seems like there are so many dimensional roles for women.

It’s amazing how many female directors we have on the show! It is so awesome getting to work with these super smart women. I have a lot of “firsts” on this show, and these amazing male and female directors made me feel safe to try new, uncomfortable, and weird things.

 

Blouse by Queenie Cao, Pants by Marc Jacobs

Dress and Shoes by Versace

How was the experience as an actress immersing yourself into such a dark space?

It really feels like being born again into this world. I’ve never been able to experience this before, and I am so lucky to have Patricia Arquette by my side every day because she was so supportive, she is so talented, and just a super kind person. And I know being her shooting partner that there are no judgments ever, and I feel like it is honestly so important who you work with because you are in such a vulnerable place as an actor. If you feel judged or feel that the other person is not there for you 100%, then it’s really freaking hard to do your job. She has just been the best partner, and I am so grateful for her, and I am so excited to have everyone see her work on the show. She’s mind-blowing–I mean it’s fucking Patricia Arquette!

Yeah that’s such an amazing opportunity! Have you had any moments while working with her where she has shown you a new layer of the craft?

Definitely! Patricia has definitely shown me a new way of looking at acting. She has such great advice, personally and professionally. She’s just so amazing and I have learned so much from her in the past three months that we have worked together.

That’s fantastic, you are so lucky to have that opportunity.

I know, I can’t believe it! Like every day I’m like, “Oh my god, I get to work again!”

(laughing) That’s great! Are there any other projects that you can hint at in pre-production?

Yes! But…I can’t tell you about any of them. (laughs) I am going to be in Georgia for awhile, and I cannot wait to start doing more press for The Act’s premiere.

What advice would you give another young actress? What would you warn them about?

I would absolutely warn them of people trying to use them or people being friends for the wrong reason, and when you find someone who is there for the right reasons then you have to be sure to hold onto them. Whether it’s a friend, a relationship, a peer, or a mentor, just make sure to hold onto the good people and steer clear of the bullshit! (laughs)

I think that’s good advice for everybody!

I think so too! And it’s so hard to find the right people, but you know I am so lucky to have my family. Not everyone has a strong and supportive family, and if you don’t then you need to surround yourself with really great people and create your own family. It’s going to be hard and it will take awhile, you’re going to cry a few times, but in the end it’ll be worth it!

I love that, that’s good advice! Following-up on our discussion of #TimesUp, minority roles, and the great projects coming out, especially in today’s political climate, is there any movie that you would want to re-tell from your perspective or some story that you would love to produce or direct one day?

Oh my god! That’s such a good question… I don’t know…if I would want to retell a story and direct it myself…the movie I really am thinking about is Girl, Interrupted. I don’t know why that is the first thing that came to mind, but I would love to direct the shit out of that.

Oh my god! Please do that! That’s one of my favorite movies of all time, but I would definitely be very critical of it because it’s just such a fantastic movie.

I would expect nothing but honesty from you! (both laugh) I love that movie so much and I am so happy you love it too. If I were to ever direct something, then that is the first movie to come to mind. I honestly would be open to anything. I have a lot more to learn about this business and a lot more to experience, so I couldn’t tell you exactly what my directorial debut would be just yet!

Well even if it is not Girl, Interrupted, then I think that theme that we have been discussing of women’s stories is so important and telling female-centric, multi-dimensional stories like that would be a great path for you.

I agree with you, that shit’s awesome!

 

Dress by Murmur

Special Thanks to Hammer and Spear in Los Angeles and Larissa Saenz at i-D Public Relations

STUDIO VISITS: LYNN BAN

Top by Balmain, All Jewelry by Lynn Ban

Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Hair and Makeup by Nina Soriano | Interview by Benjamin Price

Scrolling through Lynn Ban’s Instagram profile is enough to understand the designer’s seductively ostentatious aesthetic. Heralding the spirit of modern women, Ban strikes an effortless balance of sensuality and strength, suggesting the dreams of her world within and summoning the mysteries of the world beyond. Ban has designed rings of glittering, articulated armor, ear cuffs akin to the Death Star, and minaudieres that resemble solid gold bricks; she is glamour, excess, and luxury, offset by a healthy dose of humorous self-awareness. Lynn has been influenced by the gritty-meets-glittering allure of New York, and her work is a reflection of the high energy, high-opulence, global-citizen culture of the city she’s been immersed in since her family’s immigration as a young girl. Her singular perspective transforms bold indulgences into bejeweled sophistication.

If we knew you as a child, would we have been able to see your future as a creative in the jewelry world?

As a child I would play in my mother’s jewelry for hours on end. I always saw jewelry as completing the outfit or playing to one’s mood and was always drawn to big statement pieces. Pile it on!

What motivated you to pursue a career in jewelry design? Did your family and friends influence your decision to go into design?

I was always interested in design, whether it be clothing or jewelry. My mother is a gemologist and I learned a lot about stones and jewelry through her and her collection. I started making custom pieces for myself; I was drawn to things that did not exist in the market so I started making pieces that I wanted to wear.

When would you say you experienced your “big break” and what has the journey been like since?

Working with Rihanna. I’ve been fortunate to work with her since I launched my line seven years ago. It’s been an incredible journey being able to do jewelry for her tours, videos, and performances, leading up to four seasons of Fenty Puma shows. She really pushes her team to do their best, and it’s so inspiring working for her. She is THE BOSS!

You have a vivacious, flamboyant, and daring signature luxury style, where does this aesthetic come from?

Fashion is meant to be fun and fantasy. I’ve always loved making a statement and over-the-top pieces. Who says you can’t wear sequins in the daytime? Fashion should put a smile on your face whether you be the wearer or spectator.

You have worked with some of the most influential musicians and actors in the world – how do these iconic talents change the work you produce? Do you feel your work becomes transformed when someone like Lady Gaga or Madonna wears it?

These artists definitely influence my work. They give me creative inspiration. When designing a piece, I think, .what would they wear and rock? When and how would they wear it?. Artists like Madonna and Gaga are both so influential through their fashion and many incarnations.

Many brands have decided to make their work more sustainable in an effort to combat the harmful effects of the fashion industry – how does your brand reconcile the mining and consumption of precious materials with the brand’s opulence and ethos?

I think it’s great that fashion and jewelry are becoming conscious of their carbon footprint and sustainability. I obviously use conflict-free diamonds. Jewelry is timeless, and beautiful pieces are heirlooms that retain their intrinsic value through their materials and design.

What can you tell us of your upcoming projects and collections? What direction is the Lynn Ban brand going into for 2018?

I am launching a capsule collection of evening bags. I’m super excited for the Lynn Ban woman to rock a killer evening bag that makes as much of a statement as her fashion and jewelry. I mean, what is more baller than a gold bullion evening bag? Slapping that gold brick on a table when you sit down for dinner says it all!

Currently there is a huge force of women standing up for themselves and voicing their power – how do you feel as a female designer in this day and age? Have these events in Hollywood, politics, and fashion affected you?

Most definitely! The escapism and fantasy and joy that we find in fashion is needed more than ever. In these socially and politically tumultuous times, women need to feel empowered and let those abusers know that #TimesUp.

What have you learned the most about yourself since launching your eponymous label and how has that affected your brand identity since you first began?

To always keep pushing yourself and take risks. Don’t be BASIC!

What is the future of jewelry design and how do you think technology will affect it?

Mining outer space and discovering new materials and stones.

Where do you see the brand in 10 years?

At the very TOP of course!

 

Dress by Paco Rabanne

For more information visit lynnban.com

STUDIO VISITS: ANA KHOURI

Sweater by Celine, All Jewelry by Ana Khouri

Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Hair and Makeup by Agata Helena | Interview by Benjamin Price

Ana Khouri spent her formative years between her native Brazil and the United States. First studying sculpture in Sao Paulo, Khouri later moved to New York attaining degrees from Parsons School of Design and the Gemological Institute of America. Upon completing her education in New York, Khouri traveled to London to attend Central Saint Martins, before ultimately returning to New York to set up her studio practice. For Khouri, designing jewelry is about the myriad of ways that a piece can take shape on its wearer, and the balance the work creates with the body. Ana’s designs accentuate the natural elegance and organic lines of the exquisite materials that she utilizes, and her work’s timeless quality transcends simple jewelry design into an ethereal world. Inspired by the magic of the earth and the cosmos, Khouri’s work evokes the vast majesty of nature as a whole.

What was your motivation to pursue a career in jewelry design?

While still in art school, I had a show where I presented sculptures hanging from bodies. After the show, I received an order for ten pieces to be adapted and worn as jewelry. From that moment, it triggered a significant interest in jewelry making and led me to begin studying jewelry right after I graduated in 2004.

How did your formative years in Brazil affect your life and your design ethos? Did your parents – one an engineer, and one a pianist and teacher – influence your work and your creative career path?

Yes, absolutely. I grew up between beauty and art shaping my sensibility but always having functionality in mind. Later on, after graduation, I created sculptures for many years, which is how my jewelry business first began—it was all about creating the personal connection between sculpture and body lines.

Who is the “Ana Khouri” woman and how has she evolved over time? Is there a particular person whom you feel embodies your brand identity?

The Ana Khouri woman has an interest in or comes from the art world and values self expression through accessories. My clients usually have a uniqueness about them, something that is inherently their own. They are artistic, intelligent, inspirational and strong women who connect to my world, ideas, and work.

How do you begin your creative process when designing each new collection?

My idea of jewelry goes beyond the intended purpose of ornamentation, entering more into the realms of art and sculpture. The designs are about the myriad of ways that a piece can take shape by wearing it, and the balance the work creates with the wearer’s body. I value simplicity above all else. Simplicity in composition and in motivation, as it is really the ultimate luxury. I focus on one-of- a-kind designs and limited edition pieces. My overall approach is born from the belief that jewelry has the ability to help create a deep connection with the wearer.

The history of jewelry goes back millenia and has been associated with love, war, class, magic and everything in between—how does your brand take this history into account in the process of design?

Our brand takes history into account through art in different forms. For instance, a lot of my inspiration in terms of art and sculpture come from artists like Louise Bourgeois, Calder, and Sera who have inspired me to look at shapes in relation to space and movement. But most of all, I think that jewelry should always be associated with one’s personal history. I don’t simply want these pieces to adorn, or to stand alone as beautiful objects; I want my designs to evoke their connection to space, its vastness, its majesty, yet also relate to one’s personal history.

Is technology presently shaping jewelry design (production, form or function) and how do you foresee its role affecting jewelry design in the future?

For me, the process has consistently stayed the same. The way I start every piece is still the same for both sculpture and jewelry. I start by molding them by hand; it is a very intuitive and intimate process for me. I work on making the overall piece and then find a way to add functionality. The process of design is as important as the result. I normally spend up to six months on each design.

What can you tell us of your upcoming projects and collections? What direction is your brand going into for 2018?

I focus 50% of my time on unique pieces for personal clients, which is what I love doing most. The rest of my time goes to designing the edition pieces that you can find on the “specialty/multi brand“ stores we choose to work with like Dover Street Market, Barneys, and Net-a-Porter to name a few. We have two special collaborations lined up for 2018 that I am very excited about. I feel very challenged in my work and that excites me more than anything.

 

For more information visit anakhouri.com

STUDIO VISITS: WING YAU

Jacket by Comme des Garçons, Vintage White Dress from The Break

Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Hair and Makeup by Nina Soriano | Interview by Benjamin Price

Breaking from convention, WWAKE creates a new perspective of jewelry as an extension of one’s self, personal sculpture, history, and a thoroughly modern reinterpretation of heirloom design. Wing Yau, the designer behind the CFDA finalist brand WWAKE, has successfully blended the concept of fine art sculpture with the intimacy of jewelry. The Rhode Island School of Design graduate came to New York to follow her passion for sculpture, only to find that her love of fine details and complex concepts lent themselves better to the creation of jewelry. Defined by signature shapes, unexpectedly light arrangements, and other-worldly stones, WWAKE jewelry has found a loyal following from women around the world, including notable names such as Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, and Emma Watson. In an interview with Iris Covet Book, the young artist discusses her inspirations, sustainability, and her various upcoming and exciting projects

You studied sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design, how did you transition to jewelry design?

Truthfully, I thought I wanted to be a practicing studio artist—but nothing was clicking for me. My biggest challenge was making pieces without knowing who my audience was, I kept making these little textile sculptures and hitting a creative dead-end. WWAKE was born out of a need for a more personal connection. I transformed my sculptures into wearable pieces, and when even those felt too avant garde for most, I worked with more traditional materials, such as gold and precious stones, which allowed customers to have a personal, potentially lifelong, connection to my designs. My approach to design was meant to be subversive, but as I’ve built a real community behind our pieces overtime, it’s become a lot more meaningful than that.

When would you say you experienced your big break? And what has been your journey since?

2015 was a breakout year for the brand all around, it’s hard to name just one event! I was named one of Forbes 30 under 30, we picked up our first major retailers, and we became finalists in the CFDA x Lexus Fashion Initiative! All of these things gave the brand huge exposure that I’m grateful for, which has allowed me to expand my design offering and build a team that represents a new generation of fine jewelry—everyone is savvy and passionate about what they do—from the miners, to the jewelers, to sales managers. It’s so inspiring.

How would you describe the WWAKE woman? What makes her differ from your secondary line CLOSER?

Our core woman believes in simplicity and the value of art, and while she believes in the value of tradition as well, she’s taking her own distinct approach to all rituals. WWAKE and CLOSER break the expectation of traditional jewelry design while retaining the heirloom qualities. It’s jewelry to honor, with a touch of something inexplicable, a little bit of magic. The WWAKE woman is all about subtle, quiet luxuries—the pieces are designed at a personal scale, they’re not flashy or for anyone but yourself to enjoy. To contrast, the CLOSER woman wants bold, sculptural statements from her jewelry. Our jewelry is both a reinforcement of your most valued memories and simultaneously an escape from everyday life to the world of art and the poetics behind our materials.

What design inspiration are you currently obsessed with and why?

Currently I’m obsessing over the sculptural and dramatic mineral formations found in nature, like tourmaline and kyanite, opals and ethereal-colored stones—they’re worlds within themselves, and really just take me away from wherever I may be in the moment. There’s no better sculptor than Mother Nature.

How does WWAKE and CLOSER reconcile mining and consumption of precious materials with the brands’ ethos?

For me, the process of sustainability truly starts with selecting our sources carefully. I’m dedicated to working with micromining communities who rely on this practice to sustain their families and livelihood. I’ve visited several of these communities now and am happy to share that they work with environmentally responsible practices and use their proceeds to further develop their own communities. A lot of people villainize mining, but it’s an incredible opportunity for these individuals to support themselves and develop infrastructure for their future. It’s personal. My goal with WWAKE jewelry is to connect you to the earth, and every person that touches it.

What can you tell us of your upcoming projects and collections?

We’re super excited to launch our art objects this year that will bring a new layer of artistry to the brand. We will also launch our debut couture collection in Vegas this June!

Currently there are a large number of women taking a stance and voicing their power across multiple fields and industries—how do you feel as a female designer in this day and age?

WWAKE is a company run completely by young, like-minded women, and as painful as this political climate has been, it’s driven us to work harder and fight for the future that we want to see. I want to see more female designers, more thoughtful brands that design for progress and use their platforms to bridge difficult conversations, and I want to see customers that stand behind this and make thoughtful purchases.

Vintage Dress from Nice Piece in Paris

For more information visit wwake.com

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN MARY BOONE AND PETER SAUL

Through her illustrious career, revolutionary gallerist Mary Boone has represented some of the most influential artists of our time. In a rare opportunity, we get to sit in on the conversation between one of America’s best known fine-art painters, artist Peter Saul, and Mary Boone at her gallery located on 5th Avenue in New York City.

Portrait Photography by Dustin Mansyur

From the beginning of her career, Mary Boone made a name for herself as a brash, subversive, enfant terrible of the New York art scene. David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger, Francesco Clemente, Jeff Koons, and Ai WeiWei all have been represented by Boone. Early in her career, Boone revitalized the New York art scene by creating exhibitions for young, unorthodox, avant-garde downtown artists and giving them a new platform made up of influential international collectors. Boone’s keen instinct and bold moves revolutionized the art of dealing, making her the first to have waiting lists of collectors vying to purchase works yet to be created. New York magazine once dubbed Boone “The Queen of the Art Scene”, and now over forty years later and with two New York galleries that remain internationally respected, her crown remains firmly in place.

Of the many controversial artists in Mary Boone’s kingdom, Peter Saul, known for his cartoonish lampoon of American political figures and anti-war commentaries, is perhaps one of the leading contenders. Saul’s fantastic representations of American politics painted in his signature psychedelic, hyper-saturated palette, paired with historical influences and intellectual irreverence, have opened the interpretive, and at times controversial, dialogue between politics and pop culture. Educated in Europe in the 1950’s and keeping his art career under theradar through most of his life, Peter Saul found a champion in Mary Boone, who helped him claim his rightful title as one of the top contemporary artists in the US.

In the library of her uptown gallery in New York City, Iris Covet Book captured a conversation between the notoriously pressshy Mary Boone and Peter Saul as they discuss the history of the gallery, the politics of fine art, and painting Donald Trump.

So, Peter, to start from the beginning, you began your career in Europe in ‘56, correct?

Yes, and I started showing here in New York in 1962; it was my first show in New York City. I’ve been showing all these years but it hadn’t been appreciated until recently. I’ve had some success in Europe over the years, which is great. That’s really kept me going a lot of the time. In the ‘90s I sold a lot of work in Europe, very inexpensively, but for a college professor it seemed like a miracle of finances. Like, “Wow, 20,000 bucks!” You buy a new car and it’s just wonderful. I didn’t look any further than that. I suffered from modesty somewhat, and now I’m much less modest. Now I grumble at small amounts of money. (laughing)

My early days as a gallerist…I mean it was really a hard struggle too. People kind of think it must have been really glamorous. I worked as a secretary at Bykert for Klaus [Kertess], then the gallery closed and I went off on my own in ‘77. And when I was at Bykert, I met an artist named Ross Bleckner. I put him in a group show in Bykert, and he was showing with me and with Paula Cooper. In those days artists would try different galleries and find which one sells, which one fits. So when I opened my own gallery, he introduced me to a lot of his friends from CalArts, and that included David Salle, Eric Fischl, Barbara Kruger, Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons and a lot of other artists. So, I met artists through word of mouth from other artists.

But you have to remember that at the time no one believed in any of the artists I was showing, no one believed in them. No one wanted to see them or hear about them. They were either unknown or too hyped. People didn’t believe in Schnabel or Basquiat or Sally or Fischl, or even Brice Marden. Jean-Michel [Basquiat] and I met when he was 19; he decided he wanted to show in my gallery because he wanted to show with all these other artists who he thought were really good artists. And I was really very, reticent, like, “Is this right?” but he was really a wonderful person, so sweet to me and really a good artist. I showed Francis Picabia in 1983 and got a scathing review from The Times about it.

They’re so dumb!

They said it was a terrible show and that I was just trying to trick the art world. There was this conspiracy theory that I was making fun of art or artists, but eventually they started to believe in them.

It is easy to kind of glamorize things in retrospect, but mostly I like artists that are challenging. I mean, you are challenging. Even though you were not young chronologically, you were really young as an artist. The paintings weren’t just flying off the wall like they are now. It was hard to sell them, but to me you are such a master and such a forward thinker; everybody should want to be grabbing them up. But it takes a long time to make an artist. How were you exposed to the art world in your early career?

Well, I met [art collector] Allan Frumkin, he was very important to me. I accepted a certain amount of money every month for my work. He would show up one day of the year and pick which pieces of mine he wanted and then leave again, and I could do whatever with the ones that were left. This lasted for about 30 years; it was a long relationship. From 1960 through 1990. The last time he arranged a show of my work was ‘97 I believe, so this is 37 years of activity. During this time I took the opportunity to not mess with business. I just enjoyed my life. Unfortunately, I was looking backwards when I decided to be an artist in 1950. I was looking to the 19th century: you have a lot of cigarettes to smoke, wake up late in the morning,  work on your picture, there is a beautiful woman in your life, there is a room you call a studio, you look at the painting, and that’s it. That’s your life, you know. You don’t worry about any business or anything, and I was encouraged in this attitude by my art teachers.

My life was very simple, and not lived fully up until the decision to move to New York City in ‘97, and I thought “Why not normalize my career?” I realized at that point it depends a lot on the artist. You have to present yourself to the buyers, and I hadn’t done this before. I simply hadn’t shown up. I did everything I could to make my paintings attractive and interesting, but I personally didn’t show up, hardly ever. This was weird, and I suddenly realized this was weird, so I said [to myself ], “Hey, from now on, be normal.” So, we showed up. By then I was with Sally, we were in Austin, and I retired from my job at age 66 and came here to proceed with you.

Peter Saul, Nightwatch, 88” by 128”, acrylic/canvas, 1974-1975 ©Peter Saul. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York.

Peter Saul, QuackQuack, Trump, 78” by 120”, acrylic/canvas, 2017 ©Peter Saul. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York

We were meant to be.

A lot of it is just showing up and being a nice person. Sally and I show up, we’re nice people, we get along, and that is very attractive because most of the time artists who are married don’t get along. I didn’t know this, but this is the way it is. This has helped us to be liked by important people in the art world who think we are attractive to work with because we get along with each other. It’s crazy, but it’s the truth. You have to be a nice person.

That’s true!

It’s not enough to make an interesting picture or whatever.

Do you think the newfound appreciation you’ve been experiencing has to do with the times?

I guess so.

I remember remarking at your first show that the average age of the audience was like 22. There was us and then all these 20 year-olds. You have become a mentor to a lot of young artists.

It’s true. It’s a blessing; it’s a good sign.

In speaking of mentorships, influencing and teaching, are there any important mentorships or up-and-coming young artists that you are working with, Peter?

Well for example, Erik Parker is an artist that was in my art class, he showed up at some point in the ‘90s and is now in the art world. He has shown some flexibility, he’s stuck around, and he is now going to have a show at this gallery. So I have him and others from Texas. I don’t know… people introduce themselves to me and say, “I remember your art class!” and then say something I never would have said, but that’s okay, I just let it pass. I don’t concentrate on what has already happened, I try to keep my mind open for the painting I’m working on and that’s pretty much it; I’m not a historian.

Well that’s good, because then you’re not looking in the past, you’re always looking forward.

Yeah it’s important not to get hung up. If you’ve been around for 40 or 50 years, it’s easy to begin getting interested in research into those years, and what did you do and all of that stuff, but that’s deadening. Likewise, I like to show at a gallery where there is one person in charge and it’s not a corporate thing. What I don’t like is when a gallery has a selection of people that is based on age and gender and stuff. When they’re like, “Well, we have four male artists in their 70’s, so we got enough of them. Let’s get three women between the ages of 30 and 40.” That kind of thing is nonsense. I like the individuality of this gallery, that’s why I’m here really.

Oh, I love that you said that! I do think of artists in terms of their individuality, I’m not trying to make a movement. So many of the galleries now are going towards assigning different staff members to artists, and I think it is impersonal. I always thought the greatest thing was becoming friends with the artist and having a relationship.

Yes, we want to, sort of, “skip” the corporate scene, don’t we?

I think that it’s ruining the art world. What are your thoughts on the art world today?

Well, I’m seeing a lot more shows than I want because my wife, Sally Saul, who makes ceramic sculpture, is extremely interested in art and what’s going on. She insists that I see a lot of shows. Today we’re going to the Outsider Art Fair, I think, and then to the Tom Laskowski opening, and then a group show where a painting of mine that belongs to Joe Bradley is being shown. Sally insists on a certain number of days a month we go see art. So, I see more art.

And you live in Germantown, so you have to travel a couple of hours to get here.

Yeah, but it’s relaxing to be on the train. You want to take a pause often from the painting so you can rethink certain areas that you’re working on. Painting for me is a slow thing, it gets done in various stages, it develops. And the next development came clear to me this morning so it can happen tomorrow.

We had a chance to show your recent Trump pieces a few months ago. What has the response been to them and have you experienced any backlash?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve treated Trump tenderly compared to the other Presidents I have painted. The most psychotic looking one was actually one of the first, Nixon. I tore the guy apart like he was in the hands of a serial killer or something: bad news. I hope for no particular response, but Trump is a good subject. I didn’t vote for him anymore than anyone else I know. 83% of New York voted for Hillary. I don’t know why she isn’t President. She won the election, but because of the electoral college she isn’t sitting in the Oval Office. As far as I know, Trump is not aware of me. He probably thinks of me as some loser artist. He looks at my prices and goes “This is cheap! He’s a loser, he’s a loser!”

“It’s fake! It’s fake art!” (both laughing)

No, but I’m not looking for trouble. I’m looking for subject.

For more information visit maryboonegallery.com

EXCLUSIVE: LAURIE ANDERSON BY ANOHNI

Shirt and Jacket  by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Photography by Jason Rodgers | Styling by Shala Rothenberg | Interview by Anohni

Famed artist, musician, director, and visual/sonic pioneer Laurie Anderson releases a new book and discusses her decades-long career with other-worldly talent Anohni.

Laurie Anderson’s retrospective book, All the Things I Lost in the Flood published by Rizzoli, chronicles her lengthy career in the world of art and music, marriage and collaborative career with the inimitable Lou Reed, and the power of books and language. Anderson’s artistry encompasses composing music, performance art, fiction writing, and filmmaking. A true polymath, her interest in new media made her an early pioneer of harnessing technology for artistic purposes long before the tech boom. Two years ago Anderson began looking through her archive of nearly forty years of work, which includes scores of documentation, notebooks, and sketchbooks.

In this exclusive interview for Iris Covet Book, Anderson speaks with a fellow pioneer. singer, composer, and visual artist Anohni, about art, VR (Virtual Reality), American culture, and the edge.

Hi Laurie, shall we begin? Going back and looking at the accumulated works of your long career, how did working on this book cast new light on your life’s work?

It cast a lot of light! I thought I was doing new projects one after another. As it turns out, I’m doing the same ideas. I can’t believe it. It wasn’t like psychoanalysis, but it was something close to it. I found a lot of things that were really shallow, too, that I put in the book anyway because I had thought at the time, as a young artist, that they were what art was about.

We’re working on a book of Lou’s early poems called Do Angels Need Haircuts?  There was one night in 1972 on St. Mark’s, he was reading his poems, and I realized that I was a couple of blocks away that night with my friend Lucy Lippard, the art critic. We talked endlessly about ‘the edge.’ That was really important to us. We’ve done too many images, too many colors and too many lines. What art is about now is how we see things. That’s what we felt. We were making things that called attention to the fact that we were paying attention. So this all was very meaningful at the time. You could write long, long essays on ‘the edge’, the edge between this reality and the other.

For me, it meant doing minimal sculptures. I was making things. And they looked pretty much like something you would see at any construction site, a piece of sheetrock leaning against a wall, or a line bisecting the room. And that’s what we talked about and that’s what gave meaning to our work. Now if you try to talk about that now, people don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

Was that conversation a foundation for what we’re talking about now? In terms of seeing multiple points of view? Intersectional thinking, spectral thinking… you were pioneering that.

John Cage was pioneering it when he said, “Everything is music.” Robert Morris was pioneering it when he said this cube is a work of art, this plywood cube, because it forces you to look at the edge and your displacement and your position versus it. It forces you to use your eyes.

Eventually I began to use images again, and I thought, “Am I going backwards?” But then I wasn’t bothered by it anymore. I no longer see my life as progress. I just see it as trying different things at different times. One art form isn’t truly more advanced than the other. I just came from a conversation about how sound works in virtual reality. How can you make music and sound that doesn’t have a beginning and an end? What does that stuff look like? That’s the way we’ve always made music through history… with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But our lives don’t work that way so much either. Mine doesn’t have a beginning, middle and an end. I was born at one point and I’ll die at one point. The stories of our lives just don’t have any plots. Mine doesn’t really have a plot.

The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that we are evolving towards complexity. We are not sliding back down the evolutionary scale, slowly becoming toads and single cell creatures.

Jacket by Issey Miyake, Shirt by Comme des Garçons, and Laurie’s own Morgan Le Fay Trousers.

Shirt by Comme des Garçons, and Laurie’s own Morgan Le Fay Trousers.

The series of drawings you did about the life and death of your terrier Lolabelle in the film you created Heart of a Dog are so beautifully illustrated. There was a strong sense of the space itself in those drawings, supporting the figures and objects. I loved that you brought the aesthetic of your hand drawings into VR. It’s markedly different from every other experience of VR that I’ve had.

It’s because it has dust in it and smudges, and also because we made the atmosphere out of tiny little letters, so you would be able to see the air. It was full of infinitely small, dust mote letters. Most VR is airless. It’s like going into this really sterile boardroom. Like there’s no atmosphere whatsoever.

In the new book, you refer to your work as a combination of narrative and visual language. How have your stories changed over time? What stories are you interested in telling today?

They haven’t changed that much. That’s another thing I realized. I’m a short story teller, and a short story can be a two-sentence story. And if you can get it done in two sentences, then just do that, because who has time?

It’s vivid, and our mind can wrap around it without moving through much time. I think it’s harder for 21st century people now to read, to sit down with Crime and Punishment and absorb all those atmospheres, all those characters, all those days, all those roads, and all those moods, stringing them together. We’re more visual than that now.

You were saying to me recently that you feel like film will soon be relegated to museums… and the future of popular storytelling will be in VR.

VR and MR.

What’s MR?

Mixed reality. I don’t know how to do MR, but I’m really interested in learning. These are lighter weight viewing devices, and of course everything will get lighter until there’s no weight to it at all and it’ll just be retinal. In MR you will have a glass on this table, exactly like this real glass, with the reflections from your computer and of your shirt in there, and it will move, but it won’t be there. It’ll be a virtual glass that is beyond real.

It’s really wonderful for disembodiment, which has always been my personal goal as an artist. To have no body, to fall into a work of art and not be able to get out, ever. Just fall into it. And you can fall into a book, too, identifying so much with the character.

You mentioned in the introduction that the book is about language in live performances, the difference between spoken and written words, the influence of the audience, the use of the first, second and third person voices, metaphor, politics, the story of dreams, songs, misunderstandings and the new meanings that are created when languages are translated. How do you think language can change the world?

I think it might be one of the only things that can change the world, that can really let you see it in another light. Like the wall we’re building between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s actually not a wall. The wall doesn’t exist yet, but the wall is so real in our minds and it’s such a contentious thing that it’s more than real. And you have to remember, the wall is just somebody’s idea. It’s a wall of words. People react to it as if it were a real wall. We’re already living in a virtual world, you know? It’s not there yet. We haven’t even collected the money to build it. So you have to remind yourself that we live in a fantasy world, a dream world, where half the things that we’re talking about don’t actually exist.

I think it’s supported by contemporary technologies and media. It’s almost a tenet of fascist propaganda, that if you say something five times it becomes real. And I think that’s very much what Trump did with the wall. He said it so often that it became a specter in our minds and imaginations. And that leads me to a question about mythology and storytelling. Do we have a moral responsibility to write other stories besides the ones that seem most likely to happen?

I think we have a moral imperative to tell stories that turn out better than we think they might.

Last December, the Sag Harbor Theater burned down. They asked a bunch of people to pick the film that they think best embodies American values. I picked American Psycho, and we screened it on Sunday. It was a little beyond the veil for people in South Hampton. Even after the Valentine’s Day massacre, they don’t want to tell the story of a white psycho-killer who wants to kill people because he just doesn’t have enough stuff. He doesn’t have it the way he wants it. Frankly, I find the most frightening part of that story was the way the guy treated women, the cartoony-ness.

It was really disconcerting. You tell the story that you feel like telling. To me, American Psycho is very representative of what people love in this country: status and beautiful things and power and lording it over other people, and men being these absolute creeps. The prostitution was the thing that bothered me most. That was much more horrifying than the cartoony, meat-chopper stuff. People reacted to the chainsaw stuff because it’s horrible. He grabs a woman’s leg and tries to eat it. But the truly scary stuff were the things that were very real to me, which is the dismissive way that these hedge funders were talking about women, saying, “Have you ever seen an intelligent woman? I haven’t.” But people didn’t see that part of the film, because that’s so much a part of the culture.

Is this kind of storytelling the same thing as myth? In one way, it’s a discourse talking metaphorically about what’s happening. But does it reach even deeper than that?

Think of the Greeks – —Medea, Electra…all about hacking the head off your mother and eating the bones. I mean, horror movies are Greek. They’re really Greek. They’re about the hatred and rage we feel towards each other, particularly the rage towards mothers and fathers. So those are our DNA stories. But then you have these stories about heaven and particularly the ones that are trying to convince you to behave in a certain way. I don’t think they’re so much about morality or rules. I think they’re about time, ways to explain time to people, where you came from. Where are you going to go after you die? You’re going to go to heaven or you’re going to go to Nirvana or you’re going to stay in the cycle of suffering, or you’re going to be with a bunch of virgins. Time is the biggest mystery to us.

When the Christians concocted the ascent to heaven and the final coming and fire and brimstone, that was all a projection into the future.

I think it’s not very clear, because they disguised a story as something that is about human personality, and then distorted it to punish people for being bad people, because that’s the other important part of the myth. There’s something very wrong with you, and you were born with something wrong with you, and you’re going to be punished unless you do this. And that gets various shadings, like the King James Bible, for example. Jesus had always been in the Christian Bible referred to as Master or Teacher. King James wrote his Bible, and he paid for this Bible. It was the first time Jesus was called King of Kings, Lord of Lords. He became a secular, powerful person, not a teacher.

So everyone is using these structures and these stories for their own ends to get what they want, particularly power. That’s what religion mostly has come down to. It’s about control.

 

Shirt, Jacket and Trousers by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Shirt, Jacket and Trousers by Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons

Did it work? Did they get that control through the use of story? Or did the story tell of the power that they had already acquired? Is there a power in storytelling that can define the future, or even form the future?

Sure. That’s why I think women telling different stories is fantastic. Even in American Psycho, some of the greatest shots were the reaction shots of the women. Everyone is focusing on the men. But these cameras pan over to the women and they’re going, “What? Can you believe this asshole?” They’re not saying anything, but you can see it, it’s fantastic. This silent language of this woman filmmaker is telling a very different story. She’s telling it on a bunch of different levels. It’s a really complicated film.

Today, marginalized groups are sharing their narratives to ever increasing and attentive audiences. How has this recent cultural phenomena affected your work and your outlook on the work you’ve done?

When I was a young artist in the early ‘70s, I was part of a group of women artists. I joined it because I thought “OK, finally a group of people are joining together because we have different things to say than men,” and we do. But what was the focus of it? How to get into galleries. And I understand that on a professional level, but that’s not what I was there for. I was trying to find commonality with this group and be part of something.

And this was at the same time as separatist inclinations in various self-advocacy groups nationally. But you’re sort of describing a scene downtown that was more utopian.

I hope I’m not painting it as something it wasn’t, but I have some great memories of how much we did help each other. We saw ourselves as workers, somehow. That was the main thing. There were a lot of things that had opened people up in ways that were pretty wild. A lot of drugs around, a lot of sex, a lot of fun. Helping each other on every level. As soon as money came into it, things changed. We never thought we would make a dime from our work. That was the furthest thing from our minds. We all had little jobs, and you didn’t need that much money either. That’s another very important point. You needed almost nothing. You didn’t think about it.

I’m thinking about a photo of you in the book, standing in a crowd playing the violin. You’re talking about not really aspiring to get into galleries, as much, and there you were sort of just outdoors being scrutinized by these gangs of passersby. That image just reminded me of some of the stories you’ve told me of things you’ve done over the years, hitchhiking to the North Pole, just being out there in the wind.

Yeah. I did always want to get out, that’s for sure. I wanted to be part of an art world. But not one that was chummy, more that was supportive. So I was lucky enough to hit that NYC wave at the right moment.

For young artists, where do we go from there? How do we move forward?

To a young artist today, I would say “Don’t listen to me.” That would be number one. Each person finds it for themselves, and that’s the whole great thing about this. No one can tell you what it is. It’s your responsibility to find it. We have a million roads out from here, as many roads as there are artists to follow them. So question all sorts of things, even the idea of progress itself.  One of the things I’m interested in, as you are as well, is the ends of stories and what happens. So I asked my meditation teacher, “What happens to karma when there’s no one to embody your karma, and the whole system, the great dharma wheel, crashes?” It’s built on continuity and giant eons of time, the big wheels of time. So when that wheel stops and we’re not on it anymore, what happens? And he said that’s why the Buddha talked about other universes. I just loved that so much. It was so freeing to me.

It’s a kind of independence.

It’s your freedom to go anywhere and to realize that the rules are idiotic. I mean, maybe that’s one thing I would say, is that there are no rules, so don’t worry about that part. There are zero rules. It’s hard to be free.

Pants by Issey Miyake, T-Shirt by Tai Chi, and Laurie’s own gloves and jewelry.

Hair by Elsa Canedo Using Kerastase, Makeup by Kento Utsubo, Photo Assistant Jordan James, Special Thanks to Rizzoli. Laurie Anderson: All the Things I Lost in the Flood, Available on rizzolibookstore.com

EXCLUSIVE: ERIKA JAYNE


Photography by Alexandra Gavillet | Styling by Rafael Linares @ Art Department | Interview by Cecily Strong

From dancing on gin-soaked stages in the dive bars of West Hollywood, navigating the many dramas of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, to being immortally satirized on Saturday Night Live, the reality star, pop culture icon, and now New York Times best-selling author is taking the world by storm.

Erika Jayne is embracing opportunities with open arms, switching at the drop of a hat between author, international performer, “housewife,” and the icon we didn’t even know we needed. The Real Housewives franchises are filled with meme-worthy moments, unforgettable quotes, and exciting drama, but few women from the reality series have become household names to the degree of Erika Girardi, AKA Erika Jayne. In an exclusive interview between Erika and Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong, who parodied Jayne on the legendary sketch show and cemented Erika’s status as a cultural touchstone, the two women discuss ageism in the entertainment industry, creating a public persona, and her new Simon & Schuster bestselling book, Pretty Mess.

Jacket by Tom Ford, Earrings by House of Emmanuele

Earrings by House of Emmanuele

Hello! How are you Erika?

Hi Cecily, I am so good—it’s so nice to talk to you.

You too, what a treat! I am such a fan! A real fan, not just an Instagram fan. I am so excited. I’ve been bragging to everyone at SNL about getting to do this interview! So, starting with your new book, how did the idea to publish a memoir take off?

I was approached to do the book and said yes because these days I am just saying yes to everything. Obviously, you see a little bit of it on TV, but sharing 45 minutes of screen time with five other women is difficult. Writing a memoir is a way to give the audience a more in-depth peek into my life.

How open are you in this book and are you nervous about revealing too much?

There’s always the version of the truth which you can never tell or else all of your friends and family will never talk to you again (laughs), and then there is the book that I wrote, and then there is the book that got published – which went through two legal processes. Hopefully it works out well and people like it.

(laughs) What was the most challenging part writing the book?

Well, my mother and I were discussing how my father left when I was nine months old, and then she remarried and divorced again. I feel like I had blocked out that part of my childhood. I went back with her trying to piece it all back together. I was looking at it through 46 year-old eyes and thinking it was basically ten years of bullshit!

Do you think that your childhood experiences are the reason that you have this amazing life and personality and are so fabulous and youthful—or in other words, do you think that you’re basking in the things you didn’t have in your childhood?

I feel like I’m eternally 16. I had a nice car, a hot boyfriend, good grades, was performing all the time, and I looked cute. I don’t know if that’s because of my childhood, but I definitely know that all of that has an effect on you growing up.

Well, I understand feeling like you’re eternally a teenager because I feel like I’m 16 even though I’m like… 34, but have you confronted ageism in your industry? Is it something you even think about? I know I don’t think about it much.

Good, and I’m glad you don’t, and the only time I do is when someone tells me, “Oh, aren’t you a little too old to be doing this?” and I’m like, “No, actually I’m not.” I think that it’s important to keep doing it and keep pushing and dreaming because that’s an old way of thinking that is falling by the wayside as women continue to improve and show how powerful we are. You know, when you’re in your 40’s you’re not dead, you’re not done! I feel the most powerful now. I didn’t feel powerful in my 20’s, I was a ding-dong!

I couldn’t wait to turn 30 because I thought, “Finally, people will take me seriously!” And I can’t imagine someone saying to you that you’re too old, that’s insane to me. I’d be like, “Just watch me perform!”

Thank you! Could you imagine telling a man that? Could you imagine telling a man, “Sir, don’t you think you’re a little too old to be running the company?” It’s not fair for us to get a tap on the shoulder like, “Sit down honey, you’ve had enough fun, you’ve had your day, people don’t find you attractive, you can’t sell anything, and your time is up” No! I’m not going to do that.

Good, me neither. We’re taking a vow! What do you hope that people take away from your book and your personal story?

First off, I want people to laugh and have fun. It’s an easy read and a fun read, and if one person walks away inspired to go to dance class again or back to college or just see that, through this human story, we are all the same. My experience is just this way, but it’s the same bullshit for everybody, so don’t quit. You never know what the future holds.

So let’s talk about your persona Erika Jayne, how she was born and how you found her within yourself?

I was about 35 years old, had been married to Tom for six or seven years, and had been exclusively living his lifestyle. I was going to every event and socializing with a whole new set of very educated, super interesting people. I am glad I did it because it was an invaluable education, but it wasn’t me. I was wealthy and living in a bubble where I would shop, go to the gym, and then go to dinners, but what the fuck was I really doing with myself? I longed to go out, create again, and have my own identity.

I just don’t think that Tom expected the book deal, concerts, or this interview in my future. I don’t think anybody did! I started to create on my own, it was something that I loved, and here we are today. And thank God he has been so supportive. I have learned so much, and I am really grateful because without him I wouldn’t be here at all.

That’s so great, and good for you two! You’re a great example for couples. So, when did you get your big break and what was the beginning of your career as Erika Jayne like?

Well, if you take the Erika Jayne Project, it was very small potatoes. It started at my kitchen table and it was just something that I wanted to do. I created the persona with a friend of mine from high school. He took me to a producer friend of his and we made the Pretty Mess album, and I started to perform because that’s what I really love to do. It was the typical beginning. A few people in some terrible dump, no one paying attention, and just begging to get on stage. I thought to myself, “I don’t have to fucking do this, I’m rich! What the fuck am I doing?” (Cecily laughs) I hate to break it down and sound so rude, but there are a lot of naysayers and rejection. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and building it, and slowly but surely people started to pay more attention and come to my shows. The biggest break into pop culture was definitely being cast in the Real Housewives because it took Erika Jayne out of the clubs and into people’s homes, and she even became a parody on Saturday Night Live! (laughs) But I think the most interesting thing was seeing young women, like high school and college-aged girls tell me how much they love my music and style, and I’m like, “Wow, really? I’m old enough to be your mom.” That acknowledgement makes it all worth it.

 

Jacket by Vitor Zerbinato, Dress by Nookie, Boots by Christian Louboutin, Earrings and Ring by Glynneth B.

Jacket by Vitor Zerbinato

Most of my circle of friends are gay men, and so I’m curious when did your relationship with the gay community start?

Children’s theater! (laughs)

Oh my God! Same for me! I was raised in a theater in Chicago by a group of gay men.

That was where I started! And then I went to a performing arts high school where everyone in dance and theater was gay, even our instructors were gay. They were always a part of my life. These are my people and that’s that.

Right, it’s so true, and it’s so funny that I had a very similar experience. When my parents split up I felt that the gay men of my Chicago theater were raising me while my family was a mess.

And I think that’s a wonderful thing to have and I can’t imagine life without gay people in it. They are my closest confidants.

Now what about drag culture? Has drag had an influence on your life and career?

I mean, just take one look at me! What do you think? (laughs) Of course! I love drag because you get to transform into a superhuman. It’s a true art form that is not for the faint of heart. Your costumes, hair, makeup, the whole look, and your style of drag too! There are so many different styles.

What style would you be?

Hooker drag! I want to be hooker drag (both laugh). Are you kidding? Basically that’s what I already am so why not? Keep it going!

So let’s talk Housewives of Beverly Hills! Obviously I am a huge fan, but how has being on the show changed your life? Cameras catching you crying, drunk…I drink a lot, so I could never do reality TV.

I don’t really like crying on camera because you are embarrassed worldwide, and that sucks. But without that exposure I wouldn’t be talking to Cecily Strong and I wouldn’t have a book out today! See what I’m saying? You have to roll with the punches and make the best of it. At the end of the day, it is reality television and I try to be as authentic as I can and have a good time doing it!

As I say in my book, it’s like professional wrestling. There are heroes, villains, costumes, pyrotechnics, but at the end of the day the injuries are real! It’s like we are participating in this absurd narrative, but these are still my feelings and sometimes they get really hurt.

People are awful! Celebrity in general, people feel like they have some sort of ownership over you, and because you get to do your job they get to hurl insults at you. It seems even worse for people in reality TV because it is your name and your life.

Thank god I am 46 and not 26! I have lived a full life, have a successful marriage, had an unsuccessful marriage, I have an adult child, I can pay the bills. Forget it, if I were a kid and did not know who I was, I may not have made it and I would have been crazy-town. Honestly, I consider myself pretty fucking normal.

I think about that all the time. Like I was crazy enough at 22—

Right! I didn’t need anyone telling me I sucked and was awful and should kill myself. You can imagine how the younger ones feel.

I will say that my favorite piece of advice I’ve ever gotten, and I don’t mean to name drop, but it was from Jim Carey at a host dinner for SNL and he told me “Don’t ever let anyone tell you the narrative of your career.”

He’s right, and thank you for sharing that. I’ll split when I’m ready and I’ll do what I need to do. That’s very well said.

Well, thank you Jim Carey! So, what’s next for you? What do you see in the future?

I am on my way to a book signing in New Jersey which is right across the street from a terrible go-go place I used to go-go in when I was younger.

Wow.

I know, it’s really interesting, Cecily. I’m continuing to create, and there’s going to be more music and more shows, and who knows what’s coming, but I feel like it’s going to be really good.

 

Jacket by The Blonds, Bangles, Cuffs, Earrings and Hat by Glynneth B.

Jumpsuit by Any Old Iron, Shoes by Christian Louboutin

Dress by Gucci

Makeup by Etienne Ortega @ The Only Agency using NARS and KKW Beauty, Hair by Castillo @ Tack Artist Group using Sexy Hair styling products & T3 styling tools, Art Direction Louis Liu, Editor-in-Chief Marc Sifuentes, Photo Assistant Mallory, DP Vanessa Konn, Gaffer Zachary Burnett, Production Assistant Benjamin Price, Produced by XTheStudio.com, Special Thanks to Jack Ketsoyan, Laia and Mikey Minden

MATTHEW STONE

Beginning his career with an involvement in numerous counter-cultural movements, and rising to notoriety as a founding member of the South London art collective, !WOWOW!, Artist and Art Shaman Matthew Stone is bringing bodies together through his life-sized digital paintings.


Photography by Wikkie Hermkens | Styling by Sonny Groo | Interview by Ashleigh Kane

In the early 00s, Matthew Stone took the teachings of Andy Warhol’s Factory era and the concept behind Joseph Beuys’ Social Sculpture and transplanted them to London, where he and a group of friends had just graduated from Camberwell College of Arts. Consciously eschewing the rental market, they founded !WOWOW! and housed it, and themselves, in an abandoned store in South London with a revolving roster of exhibitions, residencies, studios and parties. “When I was young, I had a really strong vision of how I wanted to live my life”, Stone recalls over the phone from his studio in Hackney, “and I was specifically interested in squatting.” Having grown up with his family in a cottage on a canal in Bath, England with no permanent source of electricity – just a generator which Stone says was often not in use – it’s not hard to understand his draw towards other people. Now 35, content with living alone and much less the party animal he once was, Stone’s work is still crowded with bodies. He contributes to his own series titled “Interconnected Echoes” whereby he interviews the people he admires, has participated in several group as well as solo exhibitions, photographed the cover of FKA Twigs’ M3LL155X album cover, and most recently exhibited his life-sized digital paintings at Somerset House under the title Healing With Wounds.

Here he talks to IRIS Covet Book about connection, spirituality, and shares some invaluable advice for young artists.

Upper World Portrait, 2017

Can you talk about the process in which you make your paintings?

I physically paint and then photograph the strokes individually and create really high-resolution images of each brush stroke. Then I cut them out in Photoshop and use them to texture 3D models that I make of people. I’m working in 3D CGI software and using virtual cameras and lighting setups. Then with a printer, they’re finally printed onto linen with a technique that I developed. I only ever print each once so they live like actual paintings in the sense that there is only one of them.

Why did you want to work in a digital realm?

I didn’t want to make something that was backwards facing. I wanted people to look at them in a way that they look at contemporary imagery, in that they have not seen something else exactly like it before. To look at it with that freshness, with those eyes, and then start thinking about their bodies and each other. For a long time, I wondered whether that was through photography, or pushing photography into sculpture. With this technique, I feel like I’ve nailed the method (laughs) and now I can get on with just making paintings. The majority of the work was developing the technique and there were years when I worked on it without showing anyone any development. I went through waves of development without over-excitedly sharing it with everybody, and that was a big education for me.

One of the reasons that I’ve stopped doing lots of other different things and focused on the paintings is because I’ve realized that I can do everything I need to do within other realms, within this world of painting. Because of the way that I work in 3D virtual space, I can’t help but think of them, when I hang them on the wall, as a window into that space. Increasingly, I’m doing things in life-size so as you look at them, you’re looking into a virtual reality or mixed reality.

The people who appear in the paintings are not based on real people, they are completely invented like avatars that I’ve posed and painted. But those figures have started reappearing through different images, so it’s almost as if I’m investing in these metaphysical beings that live in the world that is my painting.

You came to London from Bath at age 18 and began to study at Camberwell College of Arts. What artists did you admire back then?

I wrote my dissertation on the spiritual content in Andy Warhol’s work and argued that you could read a religious trajectory in his work. Then I came across Joseph Beuys and was really interested in his work from a performative perspective. Through him, I developed these ideas around the artist as Shaman.

Were you always intrigued by spirituality?

My mum was a Catholic and as a result – and as a reaction to that – she was very much like, ‘You are not going to be indoctrinated in any way.’ We were left to work that stuff out on our own. Looking back, I had an interest from a very young age in mysticism; The X Files and UFOs, which I feel were very much of the times.

Can you talk about the out of body experiences that you have had?

They’re not something that I had a ton of but there are some significant ones – and I wish I could go into them at will, but I can also go into altered trance-like states. I used to do a series of performances where I would perform under the stage name “The Art Shaman” and the structure of the performance was that I would get a cover band to play Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones, and I would use the song to enter altered states.

What was the significance of Paint It Black?

Maybe something about the drumming. It has this rhythmic pull. In a sense, me talking about myself as a Shaman stemmed from that period. At that time it was very playful, essentially. But people, other artists, have found it intensely problematic. Someone wanted me to publicly apologize – which is almost as pretentious as me calling myself a Shaman (Laughs).

Why did it bother people?

I think they thought that it shouldn’t be a self-bestowed title. There’s definitely a question about using something like that – like spiritual appropriation – but, for me, the word itself, in its contemporary usage, describes behavioural patterns that are different on every continent and so it doesn’t feel super specific as a term, it feels quite general. I’m not trying to cut into any tradition that I’m not a part of. It’s more in an abstract sense that I’m trying to push the boundaries, or trigger thoughts, about the role of the artists and whether that extends beyond an individual creating expensive objects.

I use it to trigger intellectual debate because increasingly I’m interested in intuitive moments of thinking. There are certain points when I’ve thought – because of explaining it, over and over again – ‘why am I doing this?’ and that maybe I should just say that it was a phase, but I realized that me having said it had its own resonance and power anyway and that I have to live with the consequences of that – whether or not they are uncomfortable. More recently, I feel like I’ve gotten a bit more of a practical and personal practice that relates to it – there’s more humility. But I’m not going to take it off my Instagram account.

After university, !WOWOW! was founded. Did that come about because of situational circumstances or was it planned?

When I was young, I had a really strong vision of how I wanted to live my life and I was specifically interested in squatting. In college, I was obsessed with reading about Warhol’s Factory and had this idea of collaborative and collective living. I was thinking about Joseph Beuys’ Social Sculpture, which was the idea of an evolving artwork that was multi-author – it was all of society.

Once we graduated, we were like ‘let’s not pay rent, let’s go and squat!’ and so we started it and invited people in and it spiraled from there. My hope at that time was that people would perceive some of my activities within it as being a kind of living artwork and certainly not one that I’m the only author of. I was really interested in the idea of presenting a network of people as an artwork and I always had a great reticence to concretely transfer that to a gallery – in terms of installing people into a gallery. So yes, it felt like something that was situational in a sense because if you took it out of the environment that it had sprung from, it would become an illustration of it.

Feminine Teachers, 2017

Other People’s Energy, 2017

You mentioned earlier that you want to see if the artist can be more than someone who is just making expensive objects. What do you think the role of the artist is today?

Everyone as an individual has a political responsibility, so obviously, that includes artists. I don’t think my work has ever really been about art or the art world. Obviously, it emerges from the history of art and in lots of ways my work is very much about the history of religious art in terms of the use of the body and flesh, but I feel like my work has always been about interactions between people. Looking at the idea of collaboration over competition. Coexistence and compromise in conflict and how complex networks of power and connection occur. When I was younger I felt like I had the answers for things, but as I go on my thinking changes. Now I know that my thinking will probably change again in the future. I feel, with my work, I’m trying to frame the development of that thinking more than my thinking specifically.

Healing With Wounds featured the Somerset House show titled Utopia. Is utopia something you explore in your work?

I’ve always been interested in the idea of being engaged in developing ideas or using creativity to envision a more just world, but I’ve never claimed to be an activist. Essentially my thinking about optimism and utopias has always been about questioning if these dialogues are useful? Is it better to acknowledge the violence that already exists by making violent work? Or should I, as an artist, focus on promoting visions of a post-violent world? I’ve looked at art and culture that has explicitly been violent and understood it as potentially being part of a critique of violence, but instinctively, I’ve never said, “well I’m going to make violent imagery because that is a way to show people that it’s a bad thing.” I feel uncomfortable thinking in that way and I don’t know if that’s because I’m naive and I can’t deal with reality, or it’s because that type of imagery can be traumatic and does little to destabilise violence.

I go back and forth between thinking about how the power structures unfold in the images I make and how they deal with violence and what they suggest. More recently, I’m realizing that there is a lot of ambiguity in the ways in which you can read the body language of the people in my paintings. That’s quite important because I don’t think the world needs simple illustrations like “violence is bad” because the world is more complex and intelligent than that. If I can create anything where when people look at it and think about what’s happening, then that feels like the more useful contribution. Ultimately, when people look at my work, I want them to feel something and I want them to think about what they feel.

What advice do you have for young people coming up?

I always say, “listen very carefully to the advice that you give others because we verbalize our own insecurities when we criticize other people, when we give them advice.” The other thing is, “pay attention to your own mistakes, they might be the only original ideas you have.”

    Matthew Stone with his dog Beau. Follow Beau @ beauthehound on Instagram 

All art work © Matthew Stone images courtesy of Choi&Lager
For more information visit matthewstone.co.uk

TARAJI P. HENSON

Taraji P. Henson and Pam Grier talk shop on their shared experiences playing formidable roles for women of color, executing death-defying stunts, and uniting women in entertainment.


Dress by Alexandre Vauthier, Hat by Eric Javits, Stay-Up Tights by Falke, Shoes by Aquazzura
Interview by Pam Grier | Photography by Alexander Saladrigas @ Cerutti and Co | Styling by Ron Hartleben

Taraji P. Henson is a typhoon of energy when she arrives curbside at the Plaza Hotel for her cover shoot. With an entourage in tow, Henson’s seven-day work weeks are the new normal for an actor in such high demand. Rising to fame years ago with her Academy Award nomination for her lauded role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Henson proved with her talent and tenacity that she had staying power. Now, beloved by Empire fans as the one-and-only Cookie Lyon, Henson’s take on the badass-boss-queen character earned her a Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice Award, and two Emmy nominations, as well as fashion-cred from her fans for her character’s memorable high-drama designer looks. Gaining international recognition and several awards and nominations for her role as NASA scientist Katherine Johnson in the historical drama Hidden Figures, it’s evident that Taraji brings a range and depth to her characters that incites a devoted audience, and garners accolades of esteem from an industry that has an infamous history of shortchanging roles for women of color.

After years of working odd jobs as a Pentagon secretary and a singing waitress while completing her degree at Howard University, Taraji moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. With her young son Marcell accompanying her, Taraji juggled being a mother while working as many roles as she could – a work ethic she refuses to shake to this day. Through her years in Hollywood, Henson has grown a thick skin and learned to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of show business, building off of the foundation laid by the women who came before her, and adding her contribution to the empowerment of women in entertainment. Dressed to kill in the upcoming action thriller, Proud Mary, as a hired hit-woman, Taraji chooses yet another career-defining role, pushing the envelope while balancing the razor wire between her signature bulletproof strength and intrepid vulnerability – something she’s managed to turn into a touchstone of her work.

One pioneering actress who helped pave the way for women of color in entertainment is legendary cultural symbol, Pam Grier, known for her iconic roles in Foxy Brown; Coffy; Sheba, Baby; and Jackie Brown. Here she interviews the newest face of black female action stars: Taraji P. Henson, for an IRIS Covet Book exclusive.


Jacket by Michael Kors Collection, Jewelry by Marc Jacobs, Stay-Up by Wolford

Coat by Landlord, Bra, garter and underwear are Vintage Christian Dior at My Haute Wardrobe, Stay-Up Tights by Wolford, Shoes by Manolo Blahnik

 

Taraji, how are you? Girl, congratulations I am so happy for you! I can’t wait to see Proud Mary.

Thank you, thank you! I can’t wait to see it either–we’ve just finished shooting.

Well, the trailers look fantastic! And to see that 50 years later is overwhelming because I was out there by myself, I was just trying to show an example of our culture, our black women, who we are. This is who we are. Nothing can stop you. You have wings, spread them.

Yes, ma’am.

When you won your Golden Globe for playing the role of Cookie Lyon on Empire, girl, I think I screamed louder than you! What does Cookie mean to you? How much do you identify with Cookie’s character?

I think what I have in common with Cookie is her fight; you’ve got to fight to be in this business, especially as a woman, and a woman of color. You’re always fighting. So, I think I have that in common with her for sure. The mother lion… I identify with how protective she is of her family. I identify with how protective she is of her family. I identify with what she will do for her family, the great lengths she will go for her family. Cookie chose to go to jail to save her boys from becoming a statistic in the hood. She didn’t want them selling crack like she did. She sacrificed her freedom for her family. Now, I don’t know if I would sell drugs for my family. That side of Cookie, I have to find another way to hustle! (laughs).

At the same time, I grew up in the hood. I grew up in the ‘80s, and I remember when crack was dropped off in the hood, so I can understand her thinking. Your [tax] refund, your McDonald’s income, or working at the grocery store as a clerk are not going to do it. So I understand your back being pushed up against the wall and that’s all you’ve got; I get it. But growing up in the hood, I saw all my friends who chose that path, and well…I couldn’t. That life was not enough for me, I needed more. I chose to go the tough route.

That’s where Cookie and I are different. I had friends in the drug gang, but I chose not to be. I chose to work doing data entry at 16-years-old making $4 an hour. I didn’t want to risk my freedom because I had things to do, and I knew there were other ways to be successful. There are other ways to accomplish your dreams. But I still understand her, that’s why I didn’t judge her. As an actor, you can’t judge. At first, she scared the hell out of me. I was like, “Oh my God, this character is crazy. The viewers are going to hate me. Black people are going to be like, ‘Why did you make us look like this?’” And then, you know, I peeled back the layers and found her truth. I thought if I play her truth then the audience will empathize with her, they will understand her, and they will understand why she made the choices she made.

And now you’ve got the support and they are moved, touched, and rooting for you! Sometimes as we work, there’s so much going on from scene to scene that the audience doesn’t get a chance to really absorb or savor all of those elements that you just described as the actor.

And especially on TV. I mean, you have to follow the series because you only have 43 minutes to tell a story. The beautiful thing about TV is that you get to watch each episode through the series and track the character’s journey and struggle. If I feel like I can’t bring the truth to a character, then it’s not the job for me. I’m not the only actress on this planet. There’s enough work for all of us. (laughs)

That was my philosophy as well! It’s a beautiful platform to have. When I would be working on a project and I would be sent scripts, sometimes I’d say, “You know who’s good for this? Vonetta McGee. Send this to her.” We always shared, and there weren’t that many movie roles.

I also wanted to welcome you to the “Action Woman’s Club!” You’ve got to tell me about Proud Mary, who she is, and the challenges you faced playing her. Now this looks like you’re going to take some blood!

Mary’s a different character for me. I played a killer before, but she was an ex-army sniper. Mary struck a chord in me because she’s a woman and she is a hired killer. She gets paid to kill. That was interesting to me because that’s usually something men do. We’re emotional creatures; we feel. I wanted to explore that side. The beautiful thing about Mary is you’re meeting her at a crossroad. The audience is meeting her where she wants something else for her life. She has never felt maternal, and all of a sudden she meets this kid through whom she sees herself. She sees a chance to not only save herself, but save this kid from the same life she’s had.

Mary was an orphan and she was found by Danny Glover’s character who is a big mob boss. She just was, instinctively, a good killer. I think people are going to want to see this movie because Mary is different, they’ve never seen a serious female black killer. She is a real, straight up, all-about-her-business hit woman. It’s not funny, it’s not jokey, there is no wink-wink on the side. It is very serious, like when you see Liam Neeson or Tom Cruise. You’ve seen white women do it on this level, but you have never seen a black woman in this light.

No, because black women have been so invisible, but not now, not today. I hear you like to take on roles that scare you, why is that?

I know right away that it’s going to be a challenge. I don’t want anything easy. Those are the roles I look for because, in those roles, I will grow. That means it’s going to stretch me. That means, Oh I’ve never done this before. I’ve never tapped into this emotional shit, how do I get there? Proud Mary scared the hell out of me. I’ve never done action before in my life. I wasn’t used to being as physical. If I had it all to do again, I wish we had had more time to train. The great thing about it is, we did reshoot to make it even better because that’s how much the studio believes in this film. I worked seven days a week like a crazy woman to get it right. When we went back to reshoot, the stunt coordinator was really blown away. He was like, I can’t believe you caught on that fast, and I was like, Imagine if we had three weeks to train!


Jumpsuit by Dundas, Boa by Helmut Lang, Earring by Erickson Beamon, Shoes by Aquazzura

 


Clothing and Shoes by Alexander Wang


What was the research you had to do to play a character who kills?

I came across this guy called The Iceman and I can’t let him go. He was a very handsome man. I forget where he operated out of… New York maybe? But what I found so interesting about him was that he had a family. This man had a family! He had two beautiful daughters and a wife, and he was a hitman. He would go home to his family and they did not know what he did. Finally, he got caught.

I watched his interviews to research the role and psychology. There was a charm about him. He was dangerously charming, and I found myself thinking he was handsome…this is a man who kills people. So, then I thought, Wow, what do you turn on and off inside you to just go out and kill people, and then go back home to your family like nothing ever happened? But Mary is a woman, so how do I make this make sense? Is she void of her feelings and then all of a sudden it changes? It was just a lot of things that I had to explore, and I think after awhile it just became too much, too much blood on her hands. Where is my retirement? You know? When do I get to kick up and get my pedicure, my manicure and live a normal life? You know, everybody wants to retire at some point; I don’t care what you do.

Were there any challenging stunts?

I was shooting a MP5 rifle and you have to smack the trigger to make it look cool on camera. They kept saying, Karate chop it. Well, thank you because now I have blood blisters on my hands! I threw my shoulder out when I had to do this stunt where I had to swing that rifle around with one arm. That’s a heavy rifle! In another stunt, I had to throw a guy over my back. I bit my lip. I got smacked in the head with the magazine of my partner’s rifle. I have bruises. These are the things people don’t realize when they see it on the screen, it’s, Oh that was incredible! No one really understands that you’re risking your life in it. If you’re tired, if you’re fatigued, you make the wrong step, you could really hurt yourself.

Oh yes, I’ve gotten many bruises and scrapes too. Often people couldn’t believe I was a lead that held a gun, that I played a character that could actually take a life and defend my family and myself. They were so shocked, and that realm created the audience for a woman in action films.

Now, I know you’re about to star in the upcoming movie, Best of Enemies. Tell me about playing the real life civil rights leader, Ann Atwater, and her association with the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

This movie is about how love can conquer hate. Ann Atwater was a poor woman; so was Claiborne Paul Ellis, the Ku Klux Klan character that Sam Rockwell plays. They were both poor, living in a poor neighborhood. The school where the black children attended burned down, so the children had to integrate into the white school. Well, of course, the white people of the town had an issue with that because there was a heavy Ku Klux Klan influence. The councilmen and a lawyer from the North had to step in to come to some kind of agreement for these kids.

Through this process, things were very hateful and scary. People’s lives were threatened. It wasn’t easy back then trying to mix the races, but Ann was boisterous; she didn’t care. She spent her entire life in poverty, but she fought for those people just like her. She was very loud about it; you could hear her before you see her. So, she and Claiborne developed a friendship through this tumultuous time and he ended up denouncing the KKK. They were the best of friends; their story is beautiful and I can’t wait until it comes out.

To play Ann Atwater, I had to totally change the way I look. I wore a fat-suit because we don’t look anything alike. I remember the paparazzi came on set one day. They saw a light skin woman with hair slick and styled, and they thought that was me. But Ann Atwater had a short afro and I had darkened my skin because she’s a little darker. So, they didn’t spot me. So, when it came out in the local newspaper, that Taraji P. Henson was in town filming her movie, the picture wasn’t of me and I was so happy because I didn’t want those images floating around yet. It would have been like they kind of gave us away before the movie poster had been released. You’re not going to believe who you’re looking at when you see me.

That’s a part of our craft that we so cherish, our transformations into our characters. I gained weight for mine, cut my hair, shaved off my eyebrows, but it’s part of the work. You want to become that character because you’re not going to be able to redo it or reshoot it, and it’s going into the future. Oh, a historical political story of love, I can’t wait for that one! Do you have a motto or philosophy that you live your life by?

Treat others the way that you will have them treat you. It’s got me a long way in life. You are kind to me, I’ll be kind to you because that’s what I want from you.

There you go! I guess most people attempt to live their life by how they treat someone because it comes back to you.

It’s called karma, and I believe in it. I have great karma around me because I give good karma. I’m just love, love, love.

And you know what, when you have great karma, great roles come to you, great people, great situations, because I do believe in the law of attraction.

Absolutely, me too.

You know, recently there has been a lot of press exposing the reality of treatment of women in Hollywood/entertainment. Tell me about your thoughts on women supporting women in the industry.

Well, I’ve always been a big supporter of women, even before I got into the industry. I just think overall that that needs to be the narrative. Not just in the industry, but in the world, because art imitates life. If we’re artists, then we need to be setting examples for the world. That’s how I was raised, that’s all I know.

My mother was one of five sisters, so I grew up watching sisterhood. I’m real tight with all of my cousins. We never snitched on each other. We all got in trouble together, and we all went down together. We learned that from our mothers, watching them and how close they are. So, of course I’m going to be like that with other women. I don’t understand hating another woman.

We go through so much as women. Why am I, another woman, going to add to the stresses that women already have? Why would I do that?

Yeah, why tear each other down competitively? We should be supporting each other as women.

Yeah, why would you want to be that selfish? God didn’t make you the only human. He certainly didn’t make you the only female and he certainly didn’t make you the only female actor. How can I learn if I don’t have my counterpart’s work to watch? You know what I mean? I’m so happy with what’s happening right now in the industry. All of my friends are working. All of them.

Yes, and working at various levels, not only as actors but, you know, writers, producers, directors, costume designers. It’s all across the board in so many ways, and each door that they open, 100 follow.

That’s true.

What advice would you give to young women coming to Hollywood?

Be very clear and know why you’re coming to Hollywood. Whatever that dream is, don’t let anyone deter you. Keep focused on your bigger picture, stay in your lane, do not compare yourself, put in the work, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and don’t take no shit!

Absolutely! Don’t take no shit!


Jacket, Bodysuit, and Skirt Vintage Gianni Versace at My Haute Wardrobe, Tights by Wolford, Shoes by Christian Louboutin

Hair by Tym Wallace @ Master Mind Artist Management, Makeup by Ashunta Sheriff @ The Montgomery Group for Ashunta Sheriff Beauty, Manicure by Honey @ Exposure NY using Debrorah Lippman, BTS Video DP Francis Chen, Photography Assistants Diego Bendezu and Casanova Cabrera, Stylist Assistant Clair Tang, Production Assistant Benjamin Price, Special Thanks to The Plaza Hotel and Pamela Sharp of Sharp & Associates.